When Stephen King thinks your novel is “genuinely scary” you must be doing something right. Author of five previous novels, Alice Thompson’s sixth – Burnt Island, released today by Salt Publishing – clearly has all the weirdness, energy and eeriness as the one praised by King – Pharos.
Frustrated by his agent, his literary rivals, his failed family life and his inability to write best-sellers, novelist Max Long decides to escape real life and shut himself away with nothing but his imagination to produce the book that will make him millions and mollify The Meerkat, his agent.
But Max has chosen Burnt Island as his creative cave – an isle flung somewhere off Scotland’s Atlantic coast – and as barren, bizarre and lonely as its name would have it. Think, The Wicker Man but with none of the joviality… but perhaps with some of the licentiousness.
Three months of relative solitary confinement turns into a spell staying at the more than impressive house of James Fairfax – ex-banker, charm-oozer and said literary rival. The island and its inhabitants become a canvas on which his imagination runs amuck. Doppelgangers, demons and incest intertwine into horrors of the mind: but whether imagined or not, one never quite knows.
Slightly melodramatic and clichéd opening description aside, Thompson is succinct, direct and simple in style – her sparseness evokes the isolated island that brings about all Max’s terrified confusion. An uncomplicated plot and just over a handful of characters give the reader’s imagination unfettered room to run wild. In 200 pages, Burnt Island intrigues, haunts and moves, and incites rumination – the kind of novel you want to scribble down quotes from.
Here is a book which makes you hungry for whatever else the author has written and will write in the future.